Minnesota tops SMU to take NIT title
By Everett Merrill, The Sports Xchange - NEW YORK -- Make it two straight college basketball championships for a Pitino.
Coach Richard Pitino guided the Minnesota Golden Gophers to a 65-63 win over Southern Methodist in the NIT title game Thursday, a year after his dad, Rick, led Louisville to the NCAA Championship.
The 32-year-old Richard Pitino capped his first season at Minnesota (25-13) by establishing a school record for wins while delivering the second NIT title to the Golden Gophers. Minnesota claimed NIT titles in 1993 and 1998, though the latter championship was vacated due to NCAA violations.
The Golden Gophers received 19 points from forward Austin Hollins, the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament. Guard Andre Hollins (no relation) scored 14, and guard DeAndre Mathieu added 13 for Minnesota.
SMU (27-10) was playing for its first NIT title. The Mustangs were led by guard Nic Moore, who scored 17 points. SMU guard Nick Russell finished with 15 points.
"Any time you win a title, especially in year one at Minnesota, you're excited about it."
With his father, mother and a host of relatives among the 5,268 fans at Madison Square Garden, Richard Pitino matched strategy with SMU's 73-year-old coach Larry Brown.
"He (Brown) is a hall of famer and an unbelievable coach," said Richard Pitino about the only coach to win an NBA title and an NCAA championship. "His passion for the game ... he doesn't coach like he's 73. Every time we switched defenses, he sniffed it right out."
The score was tied three times in the last 2:16 of the game until Austin Hollins' 3-pointer from the right elbow with 46 seconds to play provided Minnesota with a 62-59 lead. Hollins scored all six of his team's points in the final minute, including two clutch free throws with four seconds to go that gave Minnesota a 65-62 cushion.
SMU went the last 1:40 without scoring from the floor. Moore's two free throws tied the game at 59 with 57 seconds to play.
Mathieu's two free throws put Minnesota ahead 55-54 with 2:16 to go. That was followed by a layup from Austin Hollins at the 1:51 mark, but Russell drained a 3-pointer 10 seconds later for a 57-57 tie.
With the score tied at 45 and 9:36 left in the game, SMU went on an 8-1 run, the longest streak by either team on the night, grabbing a 53-46 edge with 5:53 to play.
The Golden Gophers scored the next seven points in just one minute to knot the score at 53.
"We didn't handle prosperity very well," admitted Brown. "They (Minnesota) got down seven and I thought he (Pitino) got their kids to dig in a little. We had some terrible turnovers in the guts of the game and I think it turned the game around."
Richard Pitino was quick to point out that his Golden Gophers defense is not nearly as stifling as his dad's Cardinals, who are in the same American Athletic Conference as SMU.
"We have totally different teams," said Pitino. "They (Louisville) played them (SMU) twice obviously and we certainly did speak about it, but we don't play that similar to them (Louisville).
Minnesota scored 21 points off of 14 SMU turnovers. The Mustangs recorded five turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the half
The game was tied seven times in the first half, and there were nine lead changes as neither team put together any kind of substantial run.
The Golden Gophers created some separation late in the half, breaking a 22-22 tie with 5:11 left by scoring six straight points en route to a 30-27 halftime lead.
Austin Hollins was the only player in double figures at halftime, scoring 10 points.
After going 15-17 in Brown's first season at SMU, the Mustangs' 27 wins this season were the second-most in school history. Brown restored the program to respectability. SMU's third-place conference finish was the best output since finishing third in the 2002-03 Western Athletic Conference standings.
"You don't realize where this program was and how appreciative we are of the people that have come and supported us," said Brown. "I just want to make them proud of us."
NOTES: Minnesota coach Richard Pitino's father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, faced SMU twice this season. ... Before Tuesday night's NIT semifinal, the only time SMU played at Madison Square Garden was a 76-72 loss to St. John's in December 1950. ... Minnesota was making its sixth trip to the Garden. ... The last meeting between SMU and Minnesota was a 100-80 win by the Mustangs in 1962. ... SMU entered the game ranked seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage (.383). ... The Mustangs had held 29 of their past 46 opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field. However, Minnesota shot 49 percent Thursday night. SMU shot 48.9 percent.